The Nexus between Sprawl, Neighborhood Effects, and Urban Crime
A growing body of literature points to the relationship between neighborhood characteristics and social outcomes for its residents. While much of this "neighborhood effects" research has focused on outcomes such as educational attainment and teen pregnancy, a nascent area of study is the direct link between growing up in a distressed neighborhood and criminal activity. A separate area of research in its infancy is the link between suburbanization and crime trends in the urban core. This study attempts to integrate these two areas of research into a coherent framework that explicates the complex and interrelated relationships between sprawl, middle class and white flight, distressed urban neighborhoods, and urban crime. Specifically, this paper tracks 53 U.S. cities and their metro areas from 1970 to 2000 and uses a series of ordinary least squares regressions to answer the question: Does sprawl concentrate the poor in urban centers and, if so, does this concentration of poverty exacerbate urban crime? The results of this analysis suggest that the link between crime and sprawl is much more complex than that previously posited. It appears that increasing concentrations of urban poverty exacerbate sprawl, and that sprawl in turn exacerbates this concentration of poverty. It is this concentrated poverty, which is both the cause and the result of sprawl, that plays an important role in determining crime trends.
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